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Depicting people in Rome : contemporary examples of portraiture in the work of international artists


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Karoline Prien Kjeldsen (Bestyrelsesformand, Det Danske Institut i Rom) Jens Bertelsen (Bertelsen & Scheving Arkitekter)

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Thomas Harder (Forfatter/writer/scrittore) Michael Herslund (Copenhagen Business School)

Hanne Jansen (Københavns Universitet) Kurt Villads Jensen (Syddansk Universitet) Erik Vilstrup Lorenzen (Den Danske Ambassade i Rom)

Mogens Nykjær (Aarhus Universitet) Vinnie Nørskov (Aarhus Universitet)

Niels Rosing-Schow (Det Kgl. Danske Musikkonservatorium) Lene Schøsler (Københavns Universitet)

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Sine Grove Saxkjær (Det Danske Institut i Rom) Gert Sørensen (Københavns Universitet) Anna Wegener (Det Danske Institut i Rom) Maria Adelaide Zocchi (Det Danske Institut i Rom)

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Sine Grove Saxkjær: The Emergence and Marking of Ethnic Identities: Case Studies from the

Sibaritide Region

aleSSia di Santi: From Egypt to Copenhagen. The Provenance of the Portraits of Augustus, Livia, and Tiberius at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek

larS Boje MortenSen: The Canons of the Medieval Literature from the Middle Ages to the

Twenty-First Century

Søren kaSperSen: Body Language and Theology in the Sistine Ceiling. A Reconsideration of the

Augustinian Thesis

nicholaS Stanley-price: The Myth of Catholic Prejudice against Protestant Funerals in Eighteenth-

Century Rome

annika Skaarup larSen: Bertel Thorvaldsen and Zeuxis: The Assembling Artist

kaSpar thorMod: Depicting People in Rome: Contemporary Examples of Portaiture in the Work

of International Artists 7 33 47 65 89 101 119


Abstract. This article looks at how three international artists portray people in Rome today. In these portraits we get nuanced glimpses into the lives of the people who inhabit the city – from tourists in the city centre to local Romans and immigrants in the suburbs, from inmates and their partners at the Rebibbia prison to a Spanish Catholic exorcist. Analysing how the artists employ a wide range of media and investigative methodologies to negotiate the distance between groups of people as well as between the portrayer and the portrayed, I seek to clarify who these portrayed people are, how the artists interact with them, and what these examples of contemporary portraiture tell us about the way international artists look at Rome. I argue that the portraits are characterised by an urge to explore social structures and relationships; that they go beyond the limits of traditional portraiture and challenge our perception of what a portrait is or does; and that they show us that Rome is not simply an urban space dominated by its ancient pasts, but a contemporary globalised city defined by the people who inhabit it at any given moment in history.

Depicting People in Rome:

Contemporary Examples of Portraiture

in the Work of International Artists

by Kaspar Thormod

1 I would like to thank Mieke Bal, Stéphane van

Damme and Thomas Balfe for their comments and suggestions on this article. Thanks also to Jacopo Benci for our discussions at The British School at Rome in 2014-2015. Finally, I am extremely grate-ful for the support of Det Danske Institut i Rom and l’Académie de France à Rome – Villa Médicis

which has allowed me to pursue my work during several research trips to Rome. This article is a re-worked version of a chapter from my PhD thesis Rome reconfigured: Contemporary visions of the Eternal City, 1989-2014 (forthcoming, 2018).

2 See for instance Le Nouëne 2011, 92, 169; Ritzau &

Ascani 1982, 79.

For centuries, Rome has attracted a seemingly endless number of international artists who have interacted with the city in their work, not only giving us sweeping views of ancient ruins but also portraying the people who inhabit the city at any given moment in history. The way people in Rome were portrayed by foreigners in the last couple of hundred years will provide the point of departure for this article.1 Prior to the twentieth century,

the Roman population was presented to us in painted portraits and genre scenes, for instance as exotic Mediterranean men and women in the work of nineteenth century painters like Guillaume Bodinier (1795-1872) or Albert Küchler (1803-1886) (Fig. 1).2

Strikingly, however, little or no attention has been paid to the portrayal of people in Rome in the work of the many contemporary artists who still today spend extended periods of

Fig. 1. A.Küchler, The Albanian Girl, 1831. Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen (photo: Ole Haupt.)


120 Kaspar Thormod time in Rome. Therefore, this article will focus

on how international artists negotiate the idea of portraying the people of the Eternal City.

Having found more than fifty artists from six foreign academies who, during a twenty-five-year period from 1989 to 2014, have been engaged in the process of portraying and interacting with people in Rome, I concentrate on the work of Tomás Sheridan (b. 1982, fellow at The British School 2014), Assaf Shoshan (b. 1973, fellow at The French Academy 2013-14) and Line Kallmayer (b. 1976, fellow at The Danish Academy 2012). Analysing the work of these three artists I seek to clarify the following questions: Who are the people whom these artists portray in Rome? How can we characterise the interaction between portrayer and portrayed? And what do these examples of contemporary portraiture tell us about the way international artists look at Rome?

Since I have already implicitly juxtaposed historical and current artistic practices of portraiture in Rome, the reader might have been led to think that this article will look at traces of influence and continuities between past and present. This is not the case. We should be wary of making oversimplifying comparisons between the past and the present because both the population in Rome and the idea of portraiture in art have changed radically since the eighteenth century. Firstly, the types of men and women who populate the work of artists like Bodinier and Küchler have all but disappeared. Instead, as this article will make clear, the work of contemporary artists is centred on people of different nationalities and from varied social strata, including a large number of marginalised subjects. Contemporary artists make visible the fact that Rome today, despite the city’s somewhat stubborn focus on its own ancient roots, is a globalised urban space, which struggles with many of the same issues as other cities – organised crime, housing bubbles and immigration.3

Secondly, just as the people of Rome have changed during the centuries, so has the idea of portraiture. Traditionally, portraiture was centred more or less exclusively on a narrow range of media – primarily painting and

sculpture – and it tended to conform to certain established representational conventions. By contrast, contemporary portraiture practice makes use of a wide range of media, critical methodologies and new modes of display which challenge the very foundation of what a portrait is and does.4

Bearing in mind these developments, in the following analyses I operate with an expanded idea of portraiture: it is not simply a traditional category of art, but also a theoretical tool that can open up the complex dynamics operating between the portrayer, the portrayed, and the viewer of the portrait. Studying these dynamics in the work of Sheridan, Shoshan and Kallmayer, we will get nuanced glimpses into the lives of the people who inhabit and spend time in Rome today – from tourists in the city centre to local Romans and immigrants in the suburbs, from inmates and their partners at the Rebibbia prison to a Spanish Catholic exorcist who works in the city.

Visitors and locals

A young couple is standing in front of the Colosseum (Fig. 2). He is wearing a black suit and looks nervous; she has white flowers in her hair and a confident smile. The evening sun draws out the shadows behind them towards the illuminated emblem of Roman antiquity. The woman is holding a postcard in front of her. It shows a photo of the Colosseum, taken from exactly the same place where they are now standing. “A big hello from Rome”, she reads in Russian. “It’s magic here. Everywhere you can see history and nice people. Thanks to my husband for making my dreams come true. I love him very much, and we love Rome”.5

A bit later, we see an Italian woman in her late 30s. She is standing in front of a nondescript block of flats, holding a postcard with a picture of the same building on it. Without hesitation, she reads:

Caro Marcello, quando vieni a Roma a trovarmi? Si, lo so che tu sei già venuto, che ha già visto il Colosseo, la Galleria Borghese e la Fontana di Trevi. Ma Roma è anche qualcosa di diverso. È qualcosa di più.6

3 These contemporary conditions are explored in

Marinaro & Thomassen 2014.

4 See Alphen 1997.

5 Note that this and all following quotations in

Eng-lish are translations that appear in the subtitles of Tomás Sheridan’s Cartoline Romane.

6 “Dear Marcello, when are you coming to Rome to


depicTing peoplein rome 121

The juxtaposition of people in the centre and periphery of Rome is a defining characteristic of Tomás Sheridan’s Cartoline Romane – an art installation consisting of a 20-minute interview loop on a TV screen as well as a display of postcards used in the interviews. It

was created during a three-month fellowship at The British School at Rome in 2014.7 Focusing

on people at three centrally located tourist sites – The Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum and St Peter’s Basilica – and three suburban locations – Corviale, Garbatella and Ponte di Nona – Sheridan set out to portray people in order to explore how diametrically opposed ways of experiencing Rome coexist within a limited geographical area. The postcards served as a strategic and symbolic tool which helped him to interact with people he met. Nothing was scripted; Sheridan simply stopped people on the street and asked them to write what they thought about Rome to someone they knew outside Rome.

“I feel like a foreigner in my own city”, a woman shrugs (Fig. 3). She is standing in a parking lot in front of the Corviale building with a postcard showing the 957-metre-long complex of 1,202 council flats in the south-western outskirts of Rome. “Come visit me, Roberta!” reads another woman. She smiles. “I’ll show you what a real Roman is like”, she says, standing in the middle of a field of flowers with the Corviale looming in the background.

Back on St Peter’s Square, two Chinese tourists look into the camera. They face the Basilica; behind them Mussolini’s imposing Via della Conciliazione leads towards the Tiber. “Rome’s sky is blue”, the man reads from his postcard in Chinese. “People put flowers on their balconies. They take care of their monuments. Drivers are very polite”. Most of these scenes are filmed less than 10 kilometres apart, and yet they seem like different worlds. On the one hand, there are the perceptions of the millions of tourists who arrive in Rome every year and only stay a couple of nights on average. Most of these tourists will only visit the most popular sites in the city centre during their stay and not much more. On the other hand, there are the local Romans, who cannot afford to live in the city centre, and who rarely leave the suburbs. The central message of Cartoline Romane is echoed in the words of the suburban woman, who sends her greetings to Marcello: “Roma è anche qualcosa di diverso. È qualcosa di più”. By showing us that Rome is more than the city centre, Sheridan is challenging the

and that you have already seen the Colosseum, the Galleria Borghese and the Trevi Fountain. But Rome is also something different. It’s something more”.

7 Sheridan exhibited his work during his fellowship

at The British School and has later turned the in-terview material into a seven-minute film entitled Roman Postcards: A Tale of Two Cities.

Fig. 2. T. Sheridan, Cartoline Romane, video still, 2014.

Fig. 3. T. Sheridan, Cartoline Romane, video still, 2014.


122 Kaspar Thormod

contemporary art reconfigures the idea of portraying people in Rome is the fact that Sheridan gives agency to the portrayed subjects by letting them speak freely about Rome. In his interviews with the local Romans in the periphery, who tend to express more personal feelings than the tourists in the city centre, Sheridan’s work contains a poetic sensitivity as well as a reflection on social and political issues, which are comparable to those found in Felix Davey’s poetic photo book Possible encounters (2013), which takes us into the home of a Roman family, and Yasmin Fedda’s short documentary Siamo Tornati (2013), which shows how activists have turned an abandoned building into a gym, community centre and school.9

Sheridan’s work also shares the idea of giving agency to otherwise invisible people with Gian Paolo Minelli’s photo series Vedermi (1999). Minelli had intended to do a project about the suburban landscapes of Rome, but when he realised that these landscapes were inhabited by a population of non-European illegal immigrants, he asked these marginalised people to photograph themselves.10 Apart from

giving voices to invisible Romans, Sheridan and Minelli use seemingly superficial media like the postcard and the photographic self-portrait to create a sense of intimacy in their work.

However, despite providing us with glimpses into the different worlds of Rome, it is also necessary to consider critically some of the consequences of relying on a centre/ periphery binary. For instance, we might note that all the people who do not fit into this particular binary are left out of Sheridan’s portrayal, and that the binary, despite appearing to signify topographical neutrality, might remain steeped in power relations favouring the centre.11 These objections,

associated particularly with postcolonial theory, have been avoided by other artists who portray immigrants in the city centre, but do they carry any weight in relation to the approach to portrayal in Sheridan’s work?12

I would argue that Cartoline Romane retains the binary structure in order to re-evaluate the relationship between centre and periphery tourist’s gaze on the city, but he does so in a

very subtle way as there is no explicit critique of the tourists he interviews. The important thing is to convey the idea that the beauty of Rome is not only something which belongs in the centro storico but also exists in the people who live among crumbling functionalist architecture in the periphery.

At one point, Sheridan interviews a group of teenagers in Ponte di Nona (Fig. 4). They look uneasily at the camera before one of them reads from a postcard: “It might be all grey but try and look inside it. […] These walls aren’t so grey. They look scribbled to those who can’t read. But for people like me who are going to die here, they are full of poetry”. It may sound like something straight out of Pasolini, but the scene is not scripted, and this is perhaps why Sheridan’s portrayals convey the feeling of getting a glimpse into otherwise hidden worlds of Rome.

Returning to the city centre, it is also important to note that Sheridan’s portrayal of tourists differs from many other similar artworks, where tourists are often viewed from a distance, for example forming a queue at the entrance to the Vatican Museum in Mark Dunhill and Tamiko O’Brien’s work, or portrayed as spectators in museums in the photographs of Doug Hall or paintings by Karin Kneffel.8 These artists turn tourists,

whom we normally prefer to avoid in Rome, into the main subject, but no matter whether they examine tourists as a mob or zoom in on a series of individual faces, their work is characterised by a strong sense of distance.

Conversely, Cartoline Romane sets the stage for a more intimate portrayal which gives voice to the tourists as they are allowed to speak freely about their experience of Rome. Of course, and somewhat predictably, the statements of these tourists do not transcend stereotypical statements about how lovely Rome is, but this outcome nevertheless usefully emphasises a contrast to the personal and even quasi-poetic statements of the people who live in the Roman periphery.

One of the aspects that makes Cartoline Romane stand out as an example of how

8 Dunhill and O’Brien were fellows at the British

School at Rome in 2003 where they created the vid-eo work entitled The Queue. Hall was a fellow at the American Academy in 1996, and in 2000 he created a photographic series of 18 digital prints entitled Museum Visitors, The Vatican. Kneffel was a fellow

at the German Academy in 1995-6, and she later painted an untitled series of small aquarelles depict-ing tourists in front of baroque frescoes.

9 Both Felix Davey and Yasmin Fedda were fellows at

the British School at Rome in 2013.

10 Email to the author, 27 October, 2015. 11 Hawley 2001, 85, 89.


depicTing peoplein rome 123 from within by making a case for the strange

beauty of the suburbs and the people who live there. Perhaps the work even manages to reverse the binary structure because, in a sense, it is the city centre that is peripheral to the local population in the suburbs who would never dream of setting foot in the centro storico. Thus, the work shows us how these personal perspectives can turn the view of Rome upside down – a shift in focus that undermines the centrality of the centre. Achieving this undermining from within, Sheridan performs an effective deconstruction.13

Of course, by examining the periphery, Cartoline Romane enters into dialogue with a distinctly Roman tradition in which Pier Paolo Pasolini’s work is pivotal. Pasolini’s œuvre resonates with a lot of work by international artists as a model that enables the artists to bypass the unapproachable museum-atmosphere of the city centre in favour of the allegedly authentic and seemingly symbolically-loaded landscapes and people of the periphery. The choice of Garbatella as one of his three peripheral locations in Cartoline Romane might be a nod to this source of influence, as this area played an important role in Pasolini’s novel Una vita violenta (1959). Sheridan’s reaction to the poetic statements of the boys in Ponte di Nona is also telling: “They could’ve been characters from a Pasolini film!”, he says. “They went off to write it together. I think they got some of the poetic verve from a girl who was hanging out with them”.14

But Pasolini is not the only point of reference. Cartoline Romane also plays – consciously or not – on certain patterns in post-war movies about Rome. In an article entitled “Insiders and Outsiders: Latent Urban Thinking in Movies of Modern Rome”, David Bass has identified a dichotomy between, on the one hand, the outsider’s view of Rome where tourist attractions are jumbled together in the centro storico and, on the other hand, the insider’s view of the gritty urban reality of

the city and its periphery. Looking closer at this dichotomy might enable us to see how Sheridan’s work plays both on the insider’s and the outsider’s gaze on Rome. According to Bass, the outsider’s view of Rome often finds expression in the film cartolina, an Italian term for a sequence of views of landmarks that validates the location and thus also the setting for films such as Roman Holiday (1952).15

Typically featured in the opening moments of the film, these establishing snapshots show us the Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum, St Peter’s, and other clichéd tourist sites:

Like the postcard, the film cartolina shows

the tourist what to see, but adds the obligation of the ‘right’ way to experience Rome’s landmarks. […] Such ‘postcard’ movies warp and fold the city, ignoring and destroying swathes of urban context, to create a film-city of ‘attractions’ selected from the real city’s obliging scenic reserve. The city of attractions is a lazy tourist’s dream: a collection of desirable wonders, visitable without hot slogs through potentially boring, dangerous, ‘non-places’ in between.16

One of the consequences of the manipulated views offered by the film cartolina is that it functions as a “transformation of intimidation into reassurance”, taming Rome by making it approachable and instantly recognisable since all the areas between the landmarks and the periphery are left out.17 It is this postcard city

that the tourists in Sheridan’s work experience and respond to – a city which is so mediated by movies and guidebooks that these tourists interact with images that owe as much to the framing of the city in films as to the original architecture of Michelangelo and Bernini.18

Against the stereotypical tourist gaze, the insider’s view of the periphery – as it finds expression in films like Pasolini’s Accattone and Mamma Roma – is characterised by an urge

12 Examples of such art projects include Lala

Mer-edith-Vula’s photographic series Marginalised Society Contemplate Art (2001) and Jordan Baseman’s video work Daniel (2003). Both artists created these works whilst fellows at the British School. See Benci 2006, 16–17, 54–55.

13 A recent study of peripheral cities puts it like this:

“a shift in point of view may turn a geography of domination and subordination on its head.” Ameel et al. 2015, 8. Also, seeing Sheridan’s work as a suc-cessful deconstruction, I draw on an understand-ing of this term as it is defined in Jonathan Culler’s

book On Deconstruction, where he writes that “As a critical undoing of the hierarchical oppositions on which theories depend, [deconstruction] demon-strates the difficulties of any theory that would de-fine meaning in a univocal way: as what an author intends, what conventions determine, what a reader experiences.” Culler 1982, 131.

14 Tomás Sheridan made these comments in email

correspondence on 14 May, 2015.

15 Cf. Bass 1997, 85–86. 16 Bass 1997, 87. 17 Ibid.


124 Kaspar Thormod to “uncover the poetry of the outskirts”.19

Movies such as these are populated by marginalised characters portrayed “as allegorical or even mythical figures” who “do not want to come into the centre to work and become respectable”, as Bass puts it.20

To a certain degree, Sheridan’s work confirms this way of looking at the periphery. This is due not only to the poetic statements of the teenage boys, which give them a raw, symbolic aura, but also to the feeling we get that most of the people in the periphery are proud of living there. “Come visit me, Roberta!” reads the woman from the postcard showing the Corviale building. “I’ll show you what a real Roman is like”.

Read in this way, Cartoline Romane works not only to re-evaluate the relationship between centre and periphery but also to set up a stage where the outsider’s and insider’s views of Rome meet. The question is whether the work merely registers these different experiences of Rome, or whether it actually reflects critically on the inherent tensions between them.21 It is a question that is not

easy to resolve. I am inclined towards seeing it as a strength that Sheridan does not explicitly criticise, but simply lets people read from the postcards. Playing on the expectation that postcards should show picturesque sites or famous artworks, the suburban settings emphasise the subversive usage of an otherwise superficial, popular medium, actualising its critical potential. The postcards give agency to international tourists and local Romans alike and thus change the static relationship between portrayer and portrayed. Seeing them reading from these small rectangular pieces of card, the viewer of the work also become an insider and an outsider in Rome, and in the process, we realise that the city is not only a historic centre but a city made up of real people who – fleetingly or permanently – inhabit this urban space. Inmates and partners

The two screens are blank for a brief moment before bursting into colour. On the left, seen through an open slatted door, a distant figure moves through a hallway; on the right, we see a close-up of a woman wearing a salmon-coloured blouse. Standing in another

hallway, she has partially covered her face with her hands. Gradually, the blurred figure approaches the camera whilst the woman lowers her hands and gazes straight ahead. The figure on the left is a man with close-cropped hair and beard, and as he walks into view and faces the camera, the woman on the left lowers her gaze (Fig. 5). Both the man and the woman are facing the viewer, but at the same time it is as if they are facing each other, as if she is waiting for him. In reality, however, they are not in the same space, but separated. Then the screens flash with golden colours and grow dark.

This two-channel video projection is part of Assaf Shoshan’s extensive portrayal of inmates and their partners at the Rebibbia prison in the northeast outskirts of Rome, which is entitled Peines Partagées. Using a range of materials including video projections, testimonies, and photographs Shoshan presents us with six couples whose lives have become tied to Rebibbia. Here, I take a closer look at how Shoshan’s portrayals are centred on conveying interconnected feelings of intimacy and separation, which characterise the lives of these couples. Where most of the people in Tomás Sheridan’s work enjoy Rome or see the city as their home, regardless of whether they live in the periphery or visit the centre, Shoshan’s work takes us inside the process of portraying a group of people who do not live in Rome because they want to but because they have no other choice.22

Assaf Shoshan was born in Israel but has lived and worked in Paris for the past 15 years. In 2013-14, he was a fellow at the French Academy in Rome, where his initial idea was to do a project about the Regina Coeli prison in the Trastevere neighbourhood.

18 Cf. Wrigley 2008, xiii. 19 Bass, 1997, 91. 20 Ibid.

21 For a similar critical perspective, see Stallabrass

2006, 60.

22 An interview with Assaf Shoshan on 10 May 2016

Fig. 5. A.Shoshan, “Luigi & Marina”, still from Peines Partagées, 2014.


depicTing peoplein rome 125 There women or family members, who are

not allowed to visit their relatives inside, go to the Janiculum Hill and shout messages which can be heard in the prison. “I was especially interested in women who were ‘in prison’ outside of prison”, says Shoshan. “I wanted to do beautiful photographic portraits of these women and make small prints which they could send to their partners in prison”.

When in Rome, Shoshan changed the project slightly when he began working with six couples in the Rebibbia prison. Because he didn’t have permission to enter the prison and talk to people, he started out with three former inmates, who, having served prison sentences of 20 or 30 years after being involved in different mafia organisations, recently had been allowed to stay outside the prison during the day. Later he showed his work to the prison authorities, who then allowed him to enter the prison. There he engaged with three younger couples where both the men and women were inmates in separate departments of Rebibbia. Despite changing his plans in Rome, the basic idea of creating contact between partners who could only meet for perhaps a few hours every month remained at the heart of Peines Partagées. Shoshan made a series of filmed silent messages using a 16mm camera, which could be passed from one person to the other within or outside the prison.

The recordings were later supplemented by photographic material as well as transcribed testimonies, which also functioned as ‘monological’ messages between the couples and which told their life stories. Among the younger couples at Rebibbia, these testimonies show both how relationships can fall apart and how they can be strengthened. An example of the latter is the Brazilian couple Berenice and Maurizio, who in their personal testimonies not only describe their suffering and loss but also their hope for the future. Berenice committed her first crime when she was 46 years old and later ended up as the leader of a drug cartel. She has been with Maurizio, who is seventeen years younger than her, for ten years; for three of those ten years they were not allowed to see each other. Now they only see each other once a week at Rebibbia where Shoshan met them. Reflecting on the portraits the artist has taken of them, Berenice says:

Prison hardens your face. Although we try to smile and maintain our calm you can see the suffering. I always like to say that in prison ‘you look like a criminal’. But that is not necessarily because we are criminals, but because too often we can’t cry, we can’t talk; we can’t do anything at all. So we carry all these feelings on our faces.23

The problems that the younger couples experience inside Rebibbia mirror those of the older couples, where the men have been allowed to work outside the prison during the day. The testimonies of the young and older couples convey the impression that they are at different stages of the same story or the same life. Among the older couples, we meet Cosimo and Gelsomina who grew up in the same small town in the province of Salerno. “I have always been in love with my husband”, 59-year-old Gelsomina says in her testimony. “I was 12 and my husband was 16 when we got engaged and since then we have been together”. As a boy, Cosimo wanted to become a pianist and conductor, but he ended up being a Camorrist and is serving a life sentence for murder.

In Shoshan’s video portrayal, Cosimo is on the left screen and Gelsomina on the right (Fig. 6). They are both portrayed in front of a yellowish wall, in the same space but separated. Cosimo is seated facing the camera, wearing a light blue shirt. He looks calmly straight ahead, only lowering his gaze for a brief moment before resuming his immobile posture. Gelsomina appears more restless,

has provided the basis for my discussion of his work.

23 This and all the following quotations from the tes- timonies are interview transcriptions, which Assaf Shoshan kindly has made available to the author.

Fig. 6. A. Shoshan, “Cosimo & Gelsomina”, stills from video installation Théâtre des Exposition #5, Villa Medici, 2014.


126 Kaspar Thormod her eyes wandering, her breath uneven. In

her testimony, she recounts how she had to move to Rome because Cosimo was in prison there. “My husband has been a prisoner since I was twenty”, she says. “My psychologist says […] that the dream I have about my husband getting out of prison is a dream of fairytale love that does not exist anymore”.

The struggle involved in staying together for 30 years despite being separated is also reflected in Cosimo’s testimony. “We are not twenty-year-old lovers anymore”, he says. “[My wife] had to carry the burden of being a law-abiding woman but at the same time having a Camorrist and a murderer as a husband”. Since he has been allowed to work outside the prison, Cosimo has set up his own theatre company. “Since he is out, he has many commitments, like work and theatre”, comments his wife, before adding: “This means he has less time for cuddles”.

One of the most noteworthy things about the portraits of Peines Partagées is the interconnected feelings of intimacy and separation. This is not only seen in the testimonies but also in the videos and photographic material, where the couples are presented together in the same space but on separate screens or in separate frames. The primary concern of the work is not the usual narrative about how the couples ended up in prison; instead, it is about giving these people the ability to send messages to each other which convey a sense of who they are in the context of the current stages of their lives. When they were interviewed, many of the couples willingly started telling their life stories. According to Shoshan, they opened up simply because someone showed an interest in them. “They were all interested in the creative process and the implications of being filmed and this video being showed to their partner. They all understood fully what I wanted to do, also on a deeper level”, he says. Thus, a key factor contributing to the intimacy of these portrayals is the fact that Shoshan’s work represented a direct intervention into the lives of these people. As a portrayer, he was not passively observing the portrayed couples, but actively trying to create connections between them which convey their feelings of seclusion and separation.

I propose to think about Shoshan’s work as an artistic practice of portraiture that seeks

to produce intimacy. The concept of intimacy has been discussed in different disciplines, including feminist and postcolonial studies, but we can begin with a working definition of the term as “the quality of close connection between people and the process of building this quality”.24 When I use the term intimacy

in connection with Shoshan’s artistic practice, I wish to emphasise that intimacy plays a part both in the artistic process and in the final work.

Firstly, the term describes an artistic practice characterised by an urge to get as close as possible to the portrayed subject in order to convey his or her personal stories. This process often includes fieldwork where the artist spends extended periods of time with the portrayed individuals. Secondly, intimacy is a key element within the work itself as Shoshan seeks, as we have seen above, to create connections between the separated couples he portrays. Finally, intimacy also becomes crucial when these intimate portrayals are to be displayed and conveyed to an audience.

Contrary to landscape photography or other more ‘decorative’ artworks, which can more readily be regarded as objects for sale, portraits like these come with certain ethical considerations. As is also the case in Tomás Sheridan’s Cartoline Romane, there is a delicate balance between giving agency to people in vulnerable or marginalised positions and exposing these people by presenting them within an aestheticized framework. Where do you draw the line between intimacy and exploitation when you follow people closely and portray them in your work?

Because Shoshan’s work follows a specific group of people much more closely than Sheridan’s does, the question of how to present the life stories of the prisoners and their partners without exploiting them becomes even more pressing. “When I work with people, I always ask myself: why would they be interested in working with me? – and I try to reflect on this in my work”, says Shoshan. A key challenge in his work is to retain and convey the tension between separation and connection which his subjects are experiencing in their lives. If the work resolves this tension, then, in a sense, it betrays the people whose lives it documents. This ethical consideration makes it pivotal for the artist to choose the right format and the right


depicTing peoplein rome 127 venue for his work because he knows that the

people he is portraying are being exposed. The first exhibited manifestation of Shoshan’s work was at the group show Théâtre des Expositions #5 at Villa Medici in May 2014.25 Shoshan contributed a couple

of videos shot on 16mm film, choosing this specific format because of the grainy quality and imperfections of the analogue film and because he wanted to make the portraits as raw as possible. The analogue format provided a natural framework for the videos which are about 2½ minutes long because that is the length of the original, unedited film strip. Another benefit of using a 16mm camera was, according to Shoshan, that “the film camera with its tripod and the tapping noise became a stand-in for the missing partner”.

In other words, the old-fashioned technical equipment was used to create a more intimate space between the lens and the subject. The analogue film was digitized and displayed as a two-channel projection – a format which is ubiquitous in contemporary art videos as it enables disjunctive narrative layers to be juxtaposed. In Shoshan’s work the two-channel format is exploited to reflect an essential separation as well as a connection between the portrayed subjects. That is, the format enables Shoshan to show couples who, in a sense, are in the same space, but who cannot see each other and cannot communicate.

Having ended his fellowship at the French Academy, Shoshan was asked to set up a photography exhibition in two halls of the Grandes Galeries at the Villa Medici, which would form part of the FOTOGRAFIA – Festival Internazionale di Roma in September 2014. This exhibition was entitled Peines Partagées and included photographic portraits of the six couples that Shoshan had worked with whilst in Rome (Fig. 7). Unlike the videos in which the couples are together and separated by the two-channel projection, Shoshan chose to present the male and female partners in separate rooms, structurally conveying the sense of separation of men and women within the Rebibbia prison.

In both these rooms, one of the walls was dominated by portraits of the separated three older couples, whom Shoshan had photographed with a medium format camera that allowed for large prints (150 x 120 cm). On the opposite walls, the male and female

partners of the younger couples were represented by video stills, resulting in smaller and more grainy pictures. The intention was to convey the impression that the younger generation of men and women is looking towards the older, and vice versa – that is, to make different generations reflect one another at different stages of their lives.

Apart from these portraits, each of the rooms contained a photo of a corridor inside the prison as well as one of the landscapes outside the prison, seen from the women’s and the men’s section of Rebibbia respectively. The idea of transferring the structure of the prison to the Grandes Galeries at the Villa Medici was further emphasised by the inclusion of two architectural models of the separate sections of Rebibbia, which were made by architect Simon de Dreuille whom Shoshan had met during his fellowship in Rome. When the work was shown at Villa Medici, some of the portrayed couples, who were allowed to leave Rebibbia during the day, came to see the exhibition with their children. After Shoshan left Rome, he stayed in contact with some of the couples. He has subsequently conducted interviews with them, and in the case of Cosimo and Gelsomina he has also collected private photographic material which shows the couple before Cosimo was sent to prison – material that Shoshan has reframed and zoomed in on, creating a slideshow of their early life together. Now, he is working on a new exhibition in which he will be able to integrate the testimonies that have not yet been shown in public. The intimate character of this material requires a special venue:

25 See De Chassey 2014, 64–67.

Fig. 7. A. Shoshan, “Pia & Salvatore”, photo from installation Peines Partagées, Villa Medici, 2014.


128 Kaspar Thormod

I really want to show my work in a public space. Of course, I am very aware of commercial structures, and even though I am not pretending that I can escape the capitalist world, I am trying to think about what is the right place to show and communicate an artwork like this, which is very intimate and personal. These people are being exposed, and therefore it would be better to avoid a more commercial gallery space.

In order to integrate the testimonies into a future exhibition, Shoshan aims to create an installation space that will mirror the space inside Rebibbia where the inmates are allowed to meet their visiting partners for short periods of time. On opposite sides of a table, where the couples would sit and talk, Shoshan plans to make viewers of the work sit and listen to testimonies, thus again giving us a sense of what it is like to be together but living separate lives – being inside and outside. On a metaphorical level, the setting of Rebibbia comes to signify universal structures common to all relationships, thus enabling reflection on how seclusion and separation affects us and how some people can be separated and still find each other whilst other people can be together without really seeing one another. Whether you choose to see the work as transcending the concrete Roman environment or not, it conveys to the audience the physical structures of the prison as well as the immanent relational structures of the couples. As such, Shoshan gives us precious glimpses into the lives of a group of people who, as Rebibbia inmates and partners, have become accidental citizens of Rome. Reflecting the idea of building and conveying close connections between the portrayer, the portrayed and the viewer of the work, Peines Partagées is an artistic practice of portraiture that actively seeks to produce intimacy.

Double portrait

“Padre José snuck in front of the camera

and smiled, inviting me to photograph him. The posing slowly intensified, and he started to come up with ideas for shots. Positioning himself in the midst of an aisle of cabinets; he thought it would make a good portrait”.26

This passage from Line Kallmayer’s artwork Ten Days with an Exorcist hints at one of its main themes: how documenting the process of portraiture – understood as a process of getting close to someone in order to explore the potential for empathy within this relationship – becomes an integral part of the finished work. Whereas Tomás Sheridan and Assaf Shoshan examined dynamics between or within groups of people, Kallmayer’s work can be seen as a self-reflexive double portrait, not only of the Spanish exorcist Padre José in Rome but also of the artist-protagonist herself as she tries to capture his image.27

Ten Days comprises an extensive body of material, which has been presented in different contexts.28 Here, I discuss the main

component which is a text of 123 pages with eighteen photographs. I use the somewhat neutral terms ‘text’ or ‘book’ because neither ‘exhibition catalogue’ nor ‘artist novel’ captures the layered complexity of this narrative which situates itself in an uncertain field between documentary and fiction – something which also affects the character of the portrait.

The main narrative records the meeting between the artist and an exorcist in Rome, following a diary-like structure with entries starting on 14 December 2011 and ending on the night before Christmas Eve. At the back of the book we find an “appendix” containing eighteen photos that documents the meeting between the artist and the exorcist. This visual material serves to enhance the authenticity of the narrative, but at the same time the images can be seen as a self-contained visual essay. The book also contains a number of flashbacks, sub-narratives and fragmented letters in which the artist recounts strange dreams and visions. Although it is almost impossible to separate these intertwined elements without trivialising the narrative, I focus on how the process of portraiture is unfolded in the main narrative

26 Kallmayer 2013, 30.

27 In 2013, I was approached by Line Kallmayer who

asked me to edit the book publication of Ten Days. Having agreed to this, the reader should be aware that I write about this artwork as its editor, but I wish to stress that the artist did not have any influ-ence on the reading of Ten Days presented here.

28 Kallmayer’s work also included performative

read-ings using images in Rome and the US, a sound-and-image essay for an American online art jour-nal, and a solo show in Copenhagen which included video, voice and photographs. Here, I focus only on the book entitled Ten Days with an Exorcist, which served as the catalogue for the Copenhagen exhibi-tion. See Better Magazine 2014; Kallmayer 2013.


depicTing peoplein rome 129 and the photographic material.

At the beginning of the book we learn that research for a film about exorcism has brought the artist-protagonist to Rome where she is investigating the “distinction between what we could explain psychologically and something outside”. Her research revolves around the question of what it means to say that something is supposedly ‘real’, but when she meets Padre José she soon realises that her approach has been futile. “My intellectual thoughts and ideas seemed to bounce right off him as if they meant absolutely nothing, and an impulse to just let go came over me”, she reflects. This surrender is crucial as it allows her to become totally immersed in the meeting with the exorcist.

One of the first things Padre José does is to test her, holding a hand on her head whilst speaking in tongues. “You have nothing inside you”, he concludes. After this they quickly establish a routine of meeting every day for walks and prayers after lunch and in the evenings. There is a vivid exchange of ideas between the two, and it is clear that Padre José has an ability to shift from the most serious topics, such as theological questions about the reality of God, to the most banal ones. “Now you will hear something amazing”, he says suddenly, putting on the movie soundtrack to Black Hawk Down when she is visiting him at his monastery. The intimate portrayal dismantles our stereotypical image of an exorcist, as we get to know Padre José as a proud man with a sense of self-irony who does strange calligraphic drawings, and who loves walking, photography, film soundtracks and dark chocolate. “I never chose to be an exorcist. I was appointed one. I am a human being”, he says at some point.

On the fourth of the ten days, Padre José insists on blessing her again, but this time his laying on of hands makes her feel nauseous and sick. He is convinced it is a demon. “It is not possessing you, it is around you”, he says, and she is bewildered by the “absurdity” of the situation, “but also strangely at ease with

the weirdness of it”. Later, on the sixth day, he performs another blessing and then asks her to do the same to him. Her touch affects him deeply, and the next day he wants her to put her hands on his head again. The situation makes her feel awkward, but he seems more at ease as he opens up and tells her his story. “You know, there is something so profoundly poetic about the idea of sitting next to a woman and just putting an arm around her”,

he tells her. “Putting my arm around a woman on a sofa. Just that very small moment. I will never be able to do that”.

It becomes more and more evident that Padre José’s judgement might have become affected by their meetings. When they go for their evening walk on their last day together, he has changed from his cassock to normal clothing for the first time, and she feels unsettled as if they are “both floating out of [their] roles, disguises, identities”. Telling her that she could have been “the perfect wife” and that through her touch he felt a strong love flowing from her, she replies: “Perhaps it was the love of God?”. Their roles have now been reversed; he is transgressing the boundaries of their relationship (and his vocation) and she is restoring them by pointing out that what he has felt is perhaps not what he thinks it is. The artist-protagonist realises that what she was looking for – the question concerning the reality of things – has manifested itself in their relationship. “When on a previous day he had mentioned the word empathy, I had made a note of it”, she reflects. “I knew that this was the point. The point was empathy itself. Understanding. This was real”.

A key to understanding the notion of portraiture in Ten Days is the uncertain space between documentary and fiction which the work occupies. “This may be a work of fiction”, says a cheeky disclaimer in the colophon of the book. This phrasing recycles and transforms the traditional disclaimer by adding “may”, that is, a sense of uncertainty, which means that before we have even started reading, the authenticity of the narrative has been called into doubt by the work itself. This uncertainty is repeated in the structure of the book, which is organised like a personal diary from Rome, but reads as a novel. The visual material in the book can also be seen as authentic documentation of Kallmayer’s immersive anthropology-style field work with Padre José, which anchors the narrative firmly in reality; but being organised in an appendix at the back of the book, these photographs also have the quality of a separate, self-contained work-within-the-work. What are the consequences of this ambiguous status of the portrait in Ten Days?

Traditionally, a portrait has been seen as presenting the viewer with both the singular subjectivity of the portrayer (the artist) and the portrayed (the sitter). In this view, “the portrait embodies a dual project: it gives authority to the portrayed as well as to


130 Kaspar Thormod mimetic representation”.29 Ernst van Alphen

has demonstrated how twentieth-century artists like Andy Warhol, Cindy Sherman and others undermine the genre of portraiture from within because they want to challenge established notions of mimetic representation and human subjectivity. As a consequence, portraiture has become an influential genre in contemporary art because of its capacity to exemplify “a critique of the bourgeois self instead of its authority; showing a loss of self instead of its consolidation; shaping the subject as simulacrum instead of as origin”.30

This re-evaluation is important to keep in mind when trying to understand the ambiguous status of the portrait in Ten Days. Kallmayer is neither embracing the traditional nor the subversive conception of the portrait. On the one hand, her approach is not traditional, as the mimetic status of her project is undermined by the disclaimer in the colophon of the book. On the other hand, her project is not about challenging a bourgeois notion of the self, but rather about exposing the stereotypical role of the exorcist in order to portray the real person behind the role. Liberating herself from the idea of factual truth, the ambiguity of the narrative enables the artist to explore freely the empathy of the relationship between portrayer and portrayed. Thus, Ten Days not only depicts an exorcist in Rome but also reflects on the artistic process of portrayal in the work itself.

As a process-oriented artwork, Ten Days contains a number of scenes which directly explore the interaction between the person who portrays and the one who is portrayed. I have already quoted from the first scene, where Padre José unexpectedly “snuck in front of the camera and smiled, inviting me to photograph him”. At this point ‘artist’ and ‘subject’ have just met each other, but, interestingly, it is not the portrayer who encourages the portrayed to pose, but rather the portrayed who takes the lead because “he thought it would make a good portrait”.

This pattern, which reverses the role of the portrayer (artist-protagonist) and the portrayed (exorcist), is repeated two days later when the artist-protagonist is taking photographs of the interiors of Padre José’s convent. Again,

he makes it clear that he wants to be in the photographs, enthusiastically showing her sculptures and other elements he wants to be portrayed with. She reflects on the fact that he is at once serious and child-like in his eagerness. “More people should photograph priests”, he says. “It is so beautiful”. Guiding her carefully in order to get the photo he wants, he strikes a serious pose, reading a book or looking out the window.

I tried to please him, whilst now and then taking a picture of a plant, a corner, the dining room or something else that fascinated me. I showed him some shots on the camera and he became silent and then said, “you cut my head off? Is that on purpose?”

“I do different angles and like to experiment”. “I guess that is valuable”, he replied, clearly not quite at ease with the thought.

If we are to relate the visual material in the appendix to the narrative, then the first four images set in dimly lit rooms with half-drawn curtains seem to be related to this photo session. First we see a vase with plastic flowers on a crocheted tablecloth – perhaps one of the details that fascinate the artist-protagonist. Then we see Padre José as a shadow behind the curtain (Fig. 8); then looking out of the window; then praying. What is striking about the portraits is that they do not reveal Padre José’s face. They are clearly not the photos that he wanted her to take, and, later in the book, when she emails them to Padre José, she senses that he does not like them. What this scene shows us, then, is that there is a clear difference between her artistic gaze (on him) and his self-image.

At first glance it is hard to put one’s finger on what exactly these first portraits convey. Other international artists who have portrayed religious people in Rome tend to emphasise the dignity, gravitas and social position of their subjects – for instance, Éric Poitevin’s portraits of nuns and cardinals and Max Armengaud’s portraits from Vatican City.31 But Kallmayer’s

work neither flatters nor monumentalises the portrayed. She prioritises subtlety more than adherence to a conventional idea of beauty,

29 Alphen 1997, 241.

30 Ibid., 242. See also Alphen 2014, 244–245.

31 Éric Poitevin and Max Armengaud were fellows at

the French Academy in 1989-90 and 1990-91

re-spectively. See Armengaud 1992; Berling & Enrici 2015; Eric Poitevin, Collection FRAC Poitou-Cha-rentes. Here it should be noted that the perceived ‘authority’ of the portrayed person should always


depicTing peoplein rome 131

shooting her images in half-light and shying away from monumentalising set-ups.

However, keeping in mind the uncertain field between documentary and fiction that her work occupies as well as its self-reflexive process-oriented quality, it becomes possible to interpret these initial images metaphorically as if the still unclear character of the relationship between the portrayer and the portrayed has left traces directly in them. Put differently, if we choose to read the narrative and the visual material as a reflection of the artist-protagonist’s urge to find out what it means for something to be real, the indirect character of the first portraits relates to the fact that neither the portrayer nor the portrayed have yet stepped into the light.

Here it should be emphasised that the visual material does not read as a straightforward narrative documenting the development of their relationship in a linear manner. Despite the fact that there is a clear trajectory from the first tentative portraits to the last ones (on which more below), the material between these poles fluctuates between clarity and ambiguity. But perhaps this can be read again – within the framework of the book – as an indication of their fluctuating relationship and the fact that the artist-protagonist is struggling to see the ‘real’ person behind the exorcist persona. It is as if the initial intellectual question of what it means for something to be real has morphed into the question of what it means to really see someone.

During a private mass, she observes Padre José and is moved by his frailty, but at the same time she cannot help asking herself: “Was he posing, now that I was observing him?”. Her

doubt makes her question him:

“The man is totally crazy!” The thought raced forcefully through my mind. I pitied him for being imprisoned in this illusion. Or did I in fact envy him? A second later, another thought rushed through me, “who are you to judge?”

The idea of not judging is central to the act of portrayal in Ten Days, as it was to Sheridan’s Cartoline Romane and Shoshan’s Peines Partagée. Padre José might be posing, but she realises that she needs to let go of her prejudices in order to get closer to who he really is. Among the visual material, five images seem to be related to the private mass. In one of them, the act of receiving communion is portrayed from the perspective of the receiver (Fig. 9). The body of the exorcist is obscured by his hand and the wafer, which he takes from a gilded plate in which we also glimpse the reflection of the artist’s hands holding the camera. The perspective is warped, the colours muted and the vaults of the ceiling above are a blurred abstraction, but the photo conveys the sacramental intimacy of the space between the artist-protagonist and the exorcist, an intimacy that is an essential part of receiving the body of Christ into your own.

Again, the artist avoids a monumentalising set-up as well as a perfectly photoshopped image in terms of light, contrast and colour, which can create a sense of distance. Instead, the intimacy of the scene is – as it is in Shoshan’s work – emphasised by the grainy, fragmentary quality of the images; it is as if having crossed the threshold separating a hot

be understood as a product of the portrait itself rather than an inherent quality in the portrayed per-son. Or, as Ernst van Alphen has put it, “authority

is not so much the object of portrayal, but its ef-fect”. Alphen 1997, 240.

Fig. 8. L. Kallmayer, “Behind Curtain”, photo from Ten


132 Kaspar Thormod Roman street from the cool stillness of the

church, you are immersed in the scene. If the photo sessions are reflections on the artistic process as well as an indicator of the development of the relationship between portrayer and portrayed, then the session on their last day together takes on great importance. They are back at Padre José’s monastery, and the session starts out as usual:

He wanted to do classical shots, it seemed, and had very fixed ideas. I asked him to direct me, showing him the display on the camera and asking him how he wanted it. He guided me for a shot or two, soon realising that there could be a gap between what he imagined and the reality of the outcome.

This gap between Padre José’s imagination and the reality – his self-image and the photographic image – is also symptomatic of the difference between the portrayer and portrayed.32 The

portrayer and the portrayed come from and live in different worlds, but just when the gap between them seems impossible to bridge, the artist-protagonist literally enters the picture. In the last photo of the appendix (Fig. 10), Padre José is standing in a beam of sunlight close to the camera, his face in three-quarter profile, facing the light with closed eyes. She is behind him slightly to the left, her head half-turned toward the camera, which she is gazing directly into. Around them the room is pitch black. Having used a tripod and the timer on her camera, she has created a double portrait of the portrayer and the portrayed. “It felt like

a dance, taking turns moving in and out of the light”, she reflects.

There is a symbolic quality to the fact that both the portrayer and portrayed step from the dark into the light, but this moment of the double portrait also contains a fundamental ambiguity. It is a moment of pure empathy between the two – a point of connection between their different worlds, between her intellectual-artistic thinking and his faith – but the moment only lasts while the photo is being taken. Shortly afterwards, the artist-protagonist observes that Padre José “had a different tone to his laugh than what I had heard before”, something that makes her nervous although she only fully realises it later that evening, when Padre José is transgressing the boundaries of their relationship. Thus, there is an almost Orphic quality to the realisation that empathy is the point of connection between portrayer and portrayed: empathy is something that arises and dissolves at the same instant in the moment of the portrait.

As in the work of Sheridan and Shoshan, Kallmayer had to negotiate the danger of exposing the person she portrays. Paradoxically, her work revolves around the question of empathy, but the closer she gets to Padre José the more revealing the portrait becomes. Consequently, the ethical dimensions of her pursuit become uncertain. For instance, Padre José’s vanity is clearly exposed to us when she portrays his attempts at self-fashioning in front of the camera. Something like that would never have happened in a conventional portrait, but the artist-protagonist of Ten Days is not satisfied

32 Cf. Roland Barthes’s conflicted attitude towards

the alienating effects of the photographic portrait. As Ernst van Alphen has put it: “One depends on

portraiture for the illusion of wholeness, but at the same time one has to pay for that by a loss of self.” Alphen 1997, 245.

Fig. 10. L. Kallmayer, “Us”, photo from Ten Days with an Exorcist, 2013.


depicTing peoplein rome 133 with the clichéd gravitas of the exorcist. She

wants to see the real person behind the role, and even if the portrait she makes ends up alienating Padre José from his own image (“you cut my head off? Is that on purpose?”), Kallmayer presents us – the viewers of the work – with an empathetic and honest portrait of him as a human being.

This is what exonerates Ten Days: the work itself reflects explicitly on the ethical concerns because they are part and parcel of the portrait. In the end, the fictionalised, self-reflexive artistic process, which becomes an integral part of the work of art, conveys an honest and empathetic portrayal that not only transcends our preconceived ideas of the exorcist but also shows us the limits of the portrayal itself.

The potential of contemporary portraiture

Sheridan, Shoshan and Kallmayer display an awareness of the potential of contemporary portraiture to negotiate the distance between groups of people as well as between the portrayer and the portrayed. Along with the many other international artists who spend time in the Eternal City, they portray tourists and immigrants, beggars and homeless people, prostitutes and prisoners, religious and ordinary people, and many more. Through their work we not only see Rome as a city swamped by tourists, but also as a city inhabited by people from suburban housing estates, by prisoners and even by an exorcist.

Perhaps these artists are drawn to temporary foreign visitors as well as marginalised people because the artists themselves live somewhat marginalised and temporary lives as fellows at the foreign academies in Rome. As Jacopo Benci has pointed out, “The difficulty of coming to grips with Rome is also related to the uncertainty the artists who reside in Rome as legal immigrants perceive regarding their status – are they insiders or outsiders?”33

Just like some of the people they portray, these international artists are not really part of the local Roman culture, and perhaps it is the ambiguous situation of being an outsider but wanting to become an insider that fuels these instances of contemporary portraiture. But being an outsider does not necessarily lead to superficial artistic work. Instead, in Sheridan, Shoshan and Kallmayer’s work, it heightens the sensibility of the artist towards

marginalised or otherwise invisible people who also are inhabitants of the city.

What is certain is that these artistic practices are characterised by an urge to explore social structures and relationships. Sheridan’s Cartoline Romane examines binary social structures; Shoshan’s Peines Partagées zooms in on a specific group of people within a Roman institution; and Kallmayer’s Ten Days follows a particular individual and explores her own relationship to him closely. A driving force is the urge to connect with people as well as to connect people with each other: creating contact between the sender of the postcard and people outside Rome, between prisoners and their partners, between the portrayer and the portrayed. As we have seen, the urge to get as close as possible to the portrayed people not only makes these artists go beyond the limits of traditional portraiture but also raises certain ethical questions which the artists have to reflect on in their work.

There is a strong documentary impulse at work, which makes these artworks more concerned with real people than with the self-referential dynamics of the range of modern approaches to portraiture that challenge the authority of the portrayer and portrayed. And yet, Sheridan, Shoshan and Kallmayer’s work can still be said to challenge our perception of what a portrait is or does.

A wide range of media and investigative art practices are employed to negotiate the distance between groups of people in Rome as well as between the portrayer and the portrayed. Textual material also plays an important role in all these artworks: spontaneous reflections written down on postcards, testimonies in the form of monologic messages, and a diary-like text that occupies an uncertain space between documentary and fiction. Whereas a conventional painted portrait functions primarily on a visual level, the inclusion of text adds literary dimensions to these artworks which enable the artists to alter and intensify the interaction between the portrayer, the portrayed and the viewers of the work.

Because international artists only stay in Rome for limited periods of time and perhaps do not always speak Italian fluently, some might call into question their ability to create portraits that transcend a stereotypical and somewhat exoticising view of the city and the people who inhabit it. But I hope


134 Kaspar Thormod to have demonstrated that this is far from

always the case. From their position as outsiders, these artists show us that Rome is not simply an urban space dominated by its ancient, palimpsestic pasts. That might be the place which the guidebooks portray, but in reality Rome is a contemporary globalised city defined by the wide variety of people who inhabit it at any given moment in history.

Rome is a living place where seemingly irreconcilable times and mentalities exist side by side. “Roma è anche qualcosa di diverso. È qualcosa di più”.

Kaspar Thormod European University Institute kaspar.thormod@eui.eu


Alphen, E. van

2014 “Portraiture: Contemporary portraiture.” In: Kelly, M. (ed.), Encyclopedia of Aesthetics, Oxford, 242–246.

Alphen, E. van

1997 “The portrait’s dispersal: concepts of rep-resentation and subjectivity in contemporary portraiture.” In: Woodall, J. (ed.), Portraiture: Facing the subject, Manchester & New York, 239– 256.

Ameel, L. et al. (eds.)

2015 Literature and the peripheral city, New York. Armengaud, M.

1992 Cité du Vatican. École nationale d’art, Dijon. Bass, D.

1997 “Insiders and outsiders. Latent urban thinking in movies of modern Rome.” In: Penz, F. & Thomas, M. (eds.), Cinema & Architecture, Lon-don, 84-95.

Benci, J. (ed.)

2006 Responding to Rome: British artists in Rome, 1995-2005, London.

Berling, P. & Enrici, M. (eds.)

2015 Antichambre. Max Armengaud, Arles. Better Magazine

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“Eric Poitevin, Collection FRAC Poitou-Charentes.” <http://www.frac-poitou-charentes.org/pag-es/collection_artistes-poitevin_FRAC.html> Accessed July 9th, 2016.

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1982 On Deconstruction: Theory and Criticism after Struc-turalism, Ithaca (N.Y).

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2001 Encyclopedia of postcolonial studies, Westport (Conn.).

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2011 “Intimacy as a concept: Explaining social change in the context of globalisation or an-other form of ethnocentricism?” Sociological Research Online, 16. <http://www.socresonline. org.uk/16/4/15.html> Accessed August 25th,

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2013 Ten days with an exorcist, Copenhagen. Le Nouëne, P. (ed.)

2011 Guillaume Bodinier, 1795-1872: un peintre angevin en Italie, Angers.

Marinaro, I.C. & Thomassen, B. (eds.)

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1982 Rom er et fortryllet bur: den gyldne epoke for skandina-viske kunstnere i Rom. Rhodos, Copenhagen. Stallabrass, J.

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